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Handing It Down

 Arts Illustrated 17th May 2021

Bishwadeep Moitra’s book ‘Brigitte Singh: The Printress of the Mughal Garden’ is a visual biography of Brigitte and her tryst with reviving Indian textile printing, lovingly and aesthetically published by Mapin. We present an edited excerpt from designer, writer and craft activist Laila Tyabji’s chapter, ‘Brigitte Singh, Master Craftswoman’

Wooden blocks soak in mustard oil for days to maximise durability

Wooden blocks soak in mustard oil for days to maximise durability

 WHEN I first met Brigitte Singh, she was a comparatively new bride in India and still a miniaturist, presenting the work she had done with Rajasthani painters at the house of a mutual friend in the British High Commission. Behind her diffident, charming, soft-voiced exterior, one could already sense what made her and her work so distinctive: uncompromising perfectionism; a feeling for colour, line and form; a burning passion for what she does; a respect for the craftspeople with whom she works. This was no dilettante expat ‘passing time’ in picturesque India.

Bishwadeep Moitra’s Brigitte Singh: The Printress of the Mughal Garden is a visual biography of Brigitte and her work. Expectedly, it’s a joy to look at. Leafing through the sensitively shot, beautiful images of wondrous floral jaals and butis and stunning but subtly combined pinks, aquas and olive greens, set in Brigitte’s own home and workplace, is a sensory explosion. One almost worries that her work will be seized upon to be pilfered by all those countless wannabe Brigitte printers and designers who have made her ‘the most faked textile artist’ in the world.

Printress of the Mughal Garden 

Printress of the Mughal Garden 

The working and reworking of a design until it flows and sings, unbroken by the block, the interplay of colours, with sometimes as many as 13 blocks in a single design. The travel and research, with inspiration coming from old scraps of textile or the edge of a patka in a Mughal miniature. The depth and humility with which she sees herself as part of a continuing stream of craftspeople and design tradition – improving, developing, taking further but not crudely superimposing alien elements. One of my favourite passages is where she describes this process, and how she sees her own role:

  Chiks in the motif Jal Mahal Pavot
Chiks in the motif Jal Mahal Pavot

‘But when I find a design, I like to make it mine by drawing it with brushes and adding to it. I enjoy that very much. I think if I had been in a miniature-painting studio with Shah Jahan, I would have been busy with beautiful crafted borders. I would never have been a master. I actually see myself as a cook with many ingredients… I have never seen myself as a designer; I am but a working woman to whom life happens as it does with most of us. There are days when I am more inspired and days when I struggle, many days when I don’t design and introduce new products. I really try to do my work as well as I can. My friend Judy Frater once said that you can be a beautiful calligraphist but that doesn’t make you a good writer. So if you are good at what you are doing, keep it there rather than give it grand names.’

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Read previous Blog: Setting The ‘Real’ In Surreal

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